Windham celebrates with their championship plaque after winning the Class AA North boys’ basketball title on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

WINDHAM — Every time they saw signs of improvement, there were also markers reminding the Windham High boys’ basketball team to stay grounded. They never got too high on themselves. They worked hard every day.

And guess what?

This cohesive, star-less team – which won just five games a season ago – is heading to the Class AA state championship game against longtime rival Gorham. It’s the first time that the Windham boys’ basketball team has made it to a state final.

But even at a Tuesday evening practice, the team was trying hard to focus only on its preparation, and not jump ahead to Saturday night’s game at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

“Today is the only day that matters. That’s Coach’s memo. He always says that,” said senior forward Blake McPherson, who helped lead Windham back from a 12-point deficit to beat Portland in the Class AA North final.

“I want to change my mindset, but I can’t. Not now. We’ve got to stay focused on today’s practice, and then tomorrow, or tomorrow’s practice. We do have the state game, but we can’t think of it right now.”


Chad Pulkkinen, a 2002 graduate of Windham, is in his ninth season as the Eagles’ head coach. He says the one day/one practice mentality has always been his approach because that’s what he was taught by his coaches.

“Every day is an important day because that’s all we’ve got. And we just talked about it with the kids,” Pulkkinen said at Tuesday’s practice. “We don’t win Saturday without going extremely hard today. It’s a constant message and these guys buy into it.”

There have been several times over the past year when Windham’s players had reason to start dreaming big.

Windham’s Blake McPherson drives to the basket between Portland’s James Johnson and Cordell Jones during the Class AA North boys’ basketball championship game at Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

It started over the summer. Sophomores Tyrie James and AJ Moody had played a lot as freshmen, and this year they’re pivotal players. James, who is the sixth man, leads a balanced scoring attack with 11.4 points per game. Moody scores over 10 points a game, and with quickness and long arms leads the team in steals.

“Last year, we were pretty young and we really didn’t have the connections we have now. We weren’t as close as we are now,” McPherson said.

During summer sessions at the home gyms at Moody’s house and junior Creighty Dickson’s, the team grew closer and more cohesive. In summer league games against many of the Class AA teams, Windham could see it was improving, and that was a nice, positive feeling.


“But I never in a million years thought we were going to be this successful,” McPherson said.

McPherson says he began to allow himself to believe something special was happening when “we won more games than we did last year. When we won our sixth game. We were undefeated. I just knew we were going to have a better outcome.”

Windham’s Tyrie James reaches for a loose ball ahead of Portland’s Kevin Rugabirwa during the Class AA North boys’ basketball championship game at Cross Insurance Arena on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

That sixth win was an overtime thriller against Cheverus, another top contender in Class AA North. Two games later, Windham knocked off Portland, the other big dog in the region.

The winning streak reached 10 games. Then it was over. In a big way.

At Gorham High on Jan. 15, the Eagles were outscored 26-7 in the third quarter, done in on a barrage of buckets from Gorham scoring stars Ashton Leclerc and Caden Smith. Windham lost, 67-40.

They were reminded again that focusing on “only today,” as senior Quinton Lindsay put it, is always a good idea.


“Some of the younger guys were kind of getting ahead of ourselves. ‘Oh, we can be this great team in the state,'” Lindsay said. “We saw what happened against Gorham and that kind of humbled us, and then we just took it one game at a time.”

Lindsay in many ways epitomizes the Windham approach. He does a lot of different things that help a team win. He led Class AA with 7.1 assists per game and also averages six rebounds while chipping in nearly eight points. But he is unlikely to make a postseason all-star team.

Same goes for Windham’s two other senior starters, McPherson and fiery defense-first guard Erik Bowen. None were chosen to participate in the annual McDonald’s all-star game organized by the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches. Gorham has three players chosen: Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalist Leclerc, Smith and guard Gabe Michaud.

“No stars,” Lindsay said. “We’re just five to 10 guys ready. Every guy on the court is ready for the moments.”

The Rams have more star power, more snazzy social media content and media accolades. But on Saturday, both teams will take 18-2 records into the championship game. Both teams backed up their No. 1 seed with a pair of gritty playoff wins. Neither has won a Class AA title.

Windham hasn’t looked ahead all season. Now it’s just time to play one last game.

“It’s our rival and it’s a revenge game,” Bowen said. “It’s the two best teams in the state. That’s what you want for a Gold Ball game.”

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